In that bastion of British Left wing journalism that is called The Guardian author Iain Banks decided to publish his reasons for calling for a cultural boycott of Israel. He did this the day after telling the world that he is suffering from an untreatable form of cancer and is not expected to survive the year.*
There is much in his article that I object to but I also feel that there is much in his writing that has helped me to understand where the BDS movement is coming from vis-a-vis the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The most instructive part of the article is this paragraph that lies towards the end;
“The solution to the dispossession and persecution of one people can never be to dispossess and persecute another. When we do this, or participate in this, or even just allow this to happen without criticism or resistance, we only help ensure further injustice, oppression, intolerance, cruelty and violence in the future.”
In other words so far as Banks is concerned the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is simply a narrative where Jews arrived from Europe post Holocaust and kicked out the natives from the state that was given to them by the UN and called it Israel.
I can understand why this narrative is so widely accepted, it follows a similar template of US and Australian history regarding the Aborigines and Native American Indians. This ‘copy paste’ narrative however is deeply flawed, I don’t really see any reason to go into just how flawed it is, Benny Morris et al have done sterling service in both uncovering some Israeli truths that we are less than proud of but also in destroying the myth portrayed above. Suffice it to say that what was in 1948 a fight for our very survival is seen in 2013 as some kind of one sided colonialist war where the mighty Israel attacked the poor Palestinians.
Something else that occurred to me while I was reading the article is the equation that Iain adopts almost subconsciously, that Israeli security measures have nothing to do with security and are all about persecution. Viewing the conflict in this way would certainly make one feel angry about Israeli actions. I feel strongly that his reading of the situation is incorrect, for example he mentions the Egyptians and their closure of the Gaza Strip under Mubarak. One only has to look at the disastrous situation that Egypt now faces in the Sinai to understand why Egypt “colluded” with Israel in the closure of the Strip for so long.
A few weeks ago I spent quite a long time having an argument on Twitter with an intelligent lady who simply couldn’t get it out of her head that all of Israel’s security problems come from Israel’s security precautions. So far as she was concerned Qassam rocket attacks were to be expected owing to the fact that there is a blockade of Gaza, in fact all terror against Israel was to be expected when Israeli treatment of Palestinians is taken into account.
This is an interesting perspective since it turns on it’s head just about everything I ever considered about the conflict. So far as I am concerned Israeli security measures follow from Palestinian attacks against us. I guess the end result of this is a chicken and egg argument the answer to which is entirely subjective. Well actually it could only be proven by Israel removing all security precautions and hoping for the best. The thing is in the wake of the 1967 war Israel did just that, the security precautions that currently exist have grown up organically over the years to counter various threats as they arose.
I will add that in the narrative that Banks has taken on which is that from the beginning Israel simply kicked Palestinians out of their land it is unlikely that he could ever regard any Israeli security measure as justified so much as a continuation of a process begun in 1948 or even earlier.
All this comes in the wake of a very public defeat by the University College Union in the UK of a man called Ronnie Fraser who took his union to task for what he termed institutional anti-Semitism. The organised Jewish community was very much involved in the case but the tribunal to which he applied was less than impressed with the arguments put before it and cleared the UCU in totality.
As far as I am concerned it decisively told the Jewish community to butt out of arguments concerning Israel even where Jewish members feel discriminated against. Set against Banks’ narrative with regards to Israel I can understand why people in the UCU are so apoplectic when it comes to Israel and I can also understand why they are so incensed by arguments of anti-Semitism, since they simply see this as a weapon used by pro-Israel advocates in order to silence legitimate criticism of an Israel who is an evil country operating beyond the pale of human decency. Of course this is an argument that has little or no wiggle room, if you disagree with it then you are, by definition a Zionist and therefore one of the supporters of this evil state. So in this context no Jew would ever really be able to stand up and say that as a Jew I can’t be in the UCU any more since the views of the Union with regards to Israel directly contradict my own. I imagine that any Jew who stood up and said that as a Jew they hate Israel with all their heart and soul would be welcomed wholeheartedly however and if that’s the case then how could they possibly be anti-Semitic?
*I would appreciate it if commentors refrained from using the medical condition of Iain Banks as a way to attack him, I mentioned it only because publishing his article in The Guardian in the wake of his condition becoming well known gave his words greater gravitas.